[1. Times of Change]

There is a false notion in the air: “Times have changed; things aren’t as they used to be. What can you do about it?”

This “What can you do about it?” is loaded with despair, and stems from sloth and falsehood. Falsehood, sloth and despair are the roots of the above false notion, and from it sprout many misconceptions.

Every notion in this world, and likewise every material object, must have a spiritual root in the higher worlds. Even the sitra achra, the evil thrust that stems from “the Other Side,” ultimately owes its existence and vitality to the holy side of the universe. Consider, for example, the word in the Holy Tongue that means “falsehood” — שקר (sheker). In the Zohar the letters kuf and resh Kuf and resh: Zohar I, 2b; III, 2b. are called “counterfeit letters,” but since falsehood alone cannot survive,2 the letter shin was added3 to them.

Accordingly, some people argue that there is a reputable spiritual root for their false notion that the changed times justify innovations in their Jewish observance. After all, they argue, the Baal Shem Tov revealed a new light, and the Maggid and his disciples opened up new paths through life. So, too, the Alter Rebbe laid the foundation of the mighty edifice called Chabad, and in the course of his 37 years as Rebbe he built up a Divine sanctuary. Likewise his successors, our holy forebears, invested self-sacrifice to expand and glorify the study of Torah and the practice of avodah in their respective generations.

Now, it is true that from time to time circumstances dictate that new ways be found to increase involvement in Torah and avodah. A hint of this may be found in the verse, מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב, מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל — “How goodly are your tents,4 O Jacob, [and] your dwelling places, O Israel!” Since the verse addresses the Jewish people as a single community, one would surely expect to find “tent” and “dwelling place” in the singular. The use of the plural form, then, is a reminder that these two terms comprise many diverse levels. At the same time, though, one must not forget for a moment that each of these diverse levels is located within the tents of Jacob and the dwelling places of Israel.

Similarly, the prayer rite (the nussach) of one group of Jews can vary from that of another. Each community thus has its own spiritual gate to prayer, just as each of the twelve tribes5 had its own gate through which to enter the Beis HaMikdash. However, when it comes to the prohibitive and the positive commandments,6 all are consistent.

We are not speaking of anything so blatantly self-understood as the kind of “doing good” whose opposite is “turning away from evil.” Moving beyond that, we are talking of the subtler kind of “doing good” that Chassidus calls for. In this, too, changes of time have no effect. If anything, things are beginning to look better than they were. After all, we have reached the stage of ikvos Meshicha, the advent of the approaching footsteps7 of Mashiach. We are getting closer to the highway. With every day, with every week, with every month, we are coming closer to the “appointed time” of the Redemption, and how much more so to the prophetic promise that “I will hasten it.”8

Torah and mitzvos are eternal; changes of time are irrelevant. Whatever was forbidden long ago is forbidden today, too, and whatever had to be done long ago still has to be done today.

In the last ten or fifteen years “Sennacherib has come and thrown the world into confusion,”9 and Jews have been dispersed for various reasons in many lands. This too is ordered by Divine Providence, as it is written, “I have spread you10 abroad like the four winds of heaven.” Divine Providence thus conducts a Jew to Mexico or Uruguay or wherever, in order that there he should establish a shul, bring out a rav, andfound a mikveh and a cheder, and thereby light up his environment with Torah and mitzvos and refined character traits.

And it’s a difficult assignment. A Jew finally arrives out there with his family, “a restless wanderer”11 who has just completed a harsh and arduous trek, an alien to the new terrain. And precisely this beaten-up Jew has to carry out the Divine intention — to light up the darkest reaches of this material world with the light of Torah and mitzvos and refined character traits. And where? In America and Japan and China...

This is no easy task. Even in Warsaw or Vilna, where at every turn there are people engaged in Torah and avodah, with many more who have the aptitude for this, it is difficult enough. How much more so in those remote lands, where under the prevailing circumstances there are things which parents should overlook in their youngsters.

[2. Not Lenient Concessions, but Mellow Patience]

We are not speaking of overlooking coarse and forbidden behaviors, because whatever is forbidden was forbidden in former days and today is still forbidden, just as strictly as then. In those matters there are no exemptions — but there are certain kinds of conduct to which one should turn a blind eye.

When speaking here of overlooking I do not mean that one should hand out lenient concessions. Not at all. The beard, for example, should not be shaved, especially in these countries, nor should it be removed by chemical means. I am not relating here to the question of halachic permissibility, but to the fact that these practices open up (G‑d forbid!) the gates of impurity.

Wearing a beard and peyos and appropriate garb in itself serves to some degree as a defining parameter: this individual does not belong to any other environment, so as a matter of course he belongs to the environment of Torah and mitzvos. If, however, he shaves his beard or trims it or removes it chemically, the defining parameter is gone, and he is just like everyone else around him. The recent advent of compulsive conformism has brought about spiritual ruin, and this includes any arguments defending the principle that if someone else does something, then I too am allowed to do it.

When I speak, then, of overlooking, I am not speaking of overlooking such practices, but of exercising patience when relating to others. When a chassid is reminding a fellow Jew of his obligations as a Jew, he should of course tell him the whole truth, as it is, without any lenient concessions — but his words should be moderate and loving, as he brings the other near to his heart. He should take him by the finger, so to speak.12

At the same time, one must beware lest the lifesaver who grasps the finger of a drowning man not only fails to save him, but even imperils his own life. If, however, his intention is that his friend be brought close to the practice of Yiddishkeit, and this is done by stages according to the Torah, then with time the friend will indeed come truly close to the good path.

[3. The Moisture13 in a Chassid’s Life]

The Rebbe Rayatz now turned to the temimim, the students of the local branch of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah, and said:

The temimim are not familiar with the way things used to be in Lubavitch.14 True, it may be argued in their favor that they are preoccupied with studying both the revealed and esoteric levels of the Torah, and with meditative davenen, so they cannot devote themselves to the way things used to be in Lubavitch. The fact remains, though, that the vital moisture of chassidic life is missing.

A house, by way of analogy, may be built of wood, or of stone (as in the metaphor of Sefer Yetzirah,15 “Two stones build two houses”), or of bricks — but not of bricks alone: they must be held together by mortar, and mortar must be moist.

If someone is rich and owns millions of bricks, then even if he stacks them on top of each other in the shape of a building and adds sand,it’s dangerous to walk by: a brick can fall from the sixth floor and the passerby will walk away without a head. If the building is to last, it must be held together by moist mortar. On the other hand the mortar cannot remain moist: only when it dries can the building serve for human habitation.

So, too, if someone studies Gemara or the halachic rulings of the poskim, then he is immensely wealthy; he owns millions of bricks. Yet if he lacks the moisture that links him [with his fellows], one must watch one’s step and keep a safe distance16 from him, for otherwise one can walk away without a head…

It is vital that from time to time people study the maamarim entitled Heichaltzu 565917 and VeShavsah 5662. Most regrettably, the faults that they discuss — baseless hatred, dissension, and the mingling of good and evil — are common currency in our community, and people don’t go to the trouble of seeking out and implementing the advice given there as an antidote.

Within the chassidic community we have some immensely wealthy individuals, people who own vast quantities of bricks — that is, letters of the revealed Torah and of the teachings of Chassidus. And not only letters, but also closely-argued comprehension, and expertise in a wide range of maamarim. But this kind of scholar does not constitute a human habitation: he is only a building of bricks that can strike someone’s head. He can belittle his peers; his world has no room for any other individual. His attitude finds expression in many behaviors, whose underlying cause is his lack of the moistureof chassidic life.

The moisture of togetherness springs from a comradely chassidic farbrengen and from avodah shebalev, divine service that takes place in the heart.

In former times, a farbrengen provided a young chassid with a foundation for his life. There, as he soaked up the manner in which chassidim of integrity interacted and shared their lives, he sawthe meaning of friendship and brotherly love, of truthful speech, of unfeigned humility, and of devotedness to elder chassidim.

Let me illustrate how one can learn by observing an elder chassid.

R. Shmuel Munkess, one of the earliest chassidim of the Alter Rebbe, was a very humble man. One day at a farbrengen he held onto the dish of meat delicacies that the local shochet had brought to accompany the occasional LeChaims of the chassidim around the table. Even when they asked him to pass it around he refused, without explaining why.

As the farbrengen warmed up they argued more insistently and some of the livelier participants even tried to snatch it from him. Realizing that he was fighting a losing battle, he quickly got up and trashed the whole steaming dish into a bucket of dirty dishwater.

Everyone was astonished, but it was too late. This man, someone announced, deserved to be slapped.

At that very moment, puffing and panting, a messenger from the shochet’s house burst inside: They were not to touch that dish! The meat was sent by mistake: it was treif!

Now it was the turn of the elder chassidim to complain: Who was he to be admitted to the secrets of Divine inspiration?

Eventually, after a lot of such talk, he told them that when he was preparing himself to enter the Alter Rebbe’s study for his first yechidus, he resolved that he would not allow himself any material pleasure that he was particularly drawn to. On this occasion, when that dish was first placed on the table before him, it looked so appetizing that he didn’t eat it... And when he saw how eagerly the others present were drawn to it, he threw it out.

In this way, then, every move of an elder chassidis a lantern to light up one’s path through life, a solid foundation for a lifetime.

Chassidim and temimim, listen [to R. Shmuel’s above explanation] carefully! The first steps towards entering the Rebbe’s study for yechidus are a resolve concerning a defined hiddur, the observance of a particular mitzvah lovingly and meticulously. We are not speaking about resolves concerning the actual observance of prohibitive and positive commandments; that goes without saying. In former days people would cauterize an undesirable trait with its root; in former days, at every turn you encountered friendship and warm brotherly love.

R. Moshe Vilenker once recalled how lovingly he had been guided by the chassidim at Liozna when he arrived there on his first visit to the Alter Rebbe. For five months he sat and listened to them and studied, until at length he felt that he was ready to enter the Rebbe’s study for his first yechidus.

In bygone years, every word one heard from a chassid was studied and reviewed, and internalized in one’s head and heart. Gazing upon the Rebbe appeared to the observer as a kind of revelation of the Divine Presence. When chassidim heard a Torah teaching from the Rebbe (and they were admitted only once a month), they reviewed and repeated it fifty or sixty times. And when a chassid concluded a yechidus, all his friends were thirsty to hear what the Rebbe had told him.

[4. A Farbrengen of Companionable Giants]

Three renowned chassidim of stature once sat down to farbreng together — R. Hillel of Paritch, R. Zalman Zezmer, and R. Pesach of Malastovka. Without any planning, they had all found themselves in Lubavitch together at the same time, so their mutual friendliness was at its happiest. Imagine, then, what their joy was like when R. Aizik of Homil walked in and joined them.

R. Zalman Zezmer, as everyone knows, was an outstanding maskil, a profound scholar in the teachings of Chassidus. His words were always few but deep. Indeed, the Alter Rebbe said that a teaching of his was worth examining in depth. And in one of his own maamarim, my revered father [the Rebbe Rashab] quotes an original insight of R. Zalman Zezmer’s,as follows: In Maariv we say, גּוֹלֵל אוֹר מִפְּנֵי חוֹשֶׁךְ, וְחוֹשֶׁךְ מִפְּנֵי אוֹר — “He rolls away light18 before darkness and darkness before light.” On this R. Zalman commented: “He rolls away the light preceding the tzimtzum before the darkness of the tzimtzum, and the darkness of the tzimtzum before the light — before the revelation of the or atzmi.” Moreover, it was R. Zalman Zezmer who introduced R. Hillel of Paritch into the chassidic fold.

R. Pesach was a great oved who had refined his character to the utmost. In a cordial moment in the course of the above farbrengen he threw his arms around R. Zalman and kissed him. Then, with tears in his eyes, he said: “Zalman! Zalminke! If only your heart were a vessel to match your head, things would be far beyond where they are. What a pitiable state you’re in!”

Having witnessed this, R. Hillel later said that he was overawed by R. Zalman’s chassidic attributes and by R. Pesach’s truthfulness.

At any rate, after their farbrengen together, R. Zalman, R. Hillel and R. Pesach were all exhausted and were already nodding off to sleep. But R. Aizik, who was renowned for his rich gifts and sensibilities and for his orderly and eloquent speech, had joined them only later, so he was still in a position to continue.

He began: “King Solomon was a man of superior wisdom, as it is written, ‘G‑d gave Solomon wisdom,’19 and ‘Wisdom and knowledge20 are granted to you.’ Now, what could be greater, loftier and better than wisdom, in fact the very essence of wisdom? Nevertheless, he didn’t have a Rebbe. If he had had a Rebbe to go and visit, then not only would his wisdom have been superior, but in addition he would have had chassidishe comrades and would have been present at chassidishe farbrengens. And then all his powerful images of Lover and Beloved21 he would have drawn from chassidim and Rebbeim.

“During one of my first visits to Liozna,” R. Aizik went on to illustrate, “when I was a very young man, I used to sleep in the [Alter] Rebbe’s little beis midrash. I once woke up in the middle of the night and there was Zalman, the Rebbe’s attendant, approaching me with a lantern in hand. And with him was the Rebbe himself! I was too stunned to move.

“You see, that’s how a Rebbe loves his chassidim more than a mother loves her child.”

[5. Of Chassidim Old and Young]

Elder chassidim used to show a young chassid marks of genuine closeness. In a spirit of love they would note his shortcomings and appreciate his qualities, and help him clamber out of the mire and station himself in a luminous spot. And for their part, the young chassidim knew that they had to treat their elders with respect.22

In the chassidic circles of those days, respect sprang from an inner self-effacement. A young chassid was aware of the elder chassid’s stature and of his own pettiness. At every step he learned how to rid himself of the blemishes that flesh is prey to and how to take himself in hand so as to start becoming a mensch. And with the passage of time he constantly advanced.

Participating in a chassidic farbrengen provided him with the kind of moisture that gave his endeavors cohesion. Its training in “turning away from evil” and “doing good” did not simply deal with doing or not doing a mitzvah or its opposite; it sensitized him beyond that. It made him aware that even the subtlest trace of an undesirable character trait is also evil; that even the correct and meticulous observance of a mitzvah is not yet necessarily the ultimate in truthful observance. In this way, all his individual bricks — the letters of his study of Torah and Chassidus — eventually came to constitute a truly solid edifice.

However, a damp house whose mortar has not dried out is no place to live in. So, too, moisture alone does not constitute avodah: one cannot discharge one’s obligations through farbrengens alone.One must toil in one’s studies, one must study Chassidus, one must exert oneself in meditative davenen.23 And the resultant sober contriteness is what dries out the moisture.

However, there must be a proper balance between the mode of contriteness and the mode of joy. Moreover, one has to tackle avodah under one’s own steam. Just as in the cosmos the First Tzimtzum was intended to lead to ultimate revelation, so too in each individual: his avodah under his own steam is intended to lead ultimately to a revelation of light.

[6. Creating an Environment]

What I would dearly like is that every tamim who desires to be one of our students, who wants his life made luminous by the light of our Rebbeim, should set aside one fixed hour out of the twenty-four for study with a friend. Our holy forebears, the Rebbeim, desired that every individual have a friend24 and a student. The teachings of Chassidus demand that every individual know that he is obligated to have a friend and to create a disciple.

Someone once said25 at a chassidisher farbrengen that concerning the Torah it is written, “Its ways are pleasant ways.”26 Sequence in the Torah is holy just as the Torah itself is holy — and its first commandment is to “be fruitful and multiply.”27 That is to say, the first positive attribute is that one Jew should want that there should be another Jew.

Every Jew, including a simple Jew whose learning is very scant, can with G‑d’s help do a great deal towards disseminating Torah study and reinforcing the practice of Yiddishkeit. As we have often discussed at length, exactly such individuals have endowed our people with major yeshivos and outstanding scholars. This is especially true of those chassidishe individuals who periodically visit a perfumery.28

From time to time someone complains that he has no environment; he has no one with whom to exchange a warm word. How can he not be ashamed to speak like that? Since he lives in a land which does not obstruct Torah study, how can he be lacking an environment? This only proves that what is lacking is him.

Our friends of the chassidic brotherhood, and especially the temimim, are forgetting that each of them ought to be a mashpia, someone who should and must exert an influence on those around him. Over and above his own obligations in prayer and in regular study and in caring for the welfare of those around him, every chassid should invest initiative and concern in finding ways to bring others nearer to prayer and study and positive character traits.

A chassid should influence his environment and create an environment, and not be influenced by his unrefined, bourgeois environment. A chassid who complains that he has no environment and no one with whom to exchange a warm word is merely proving that he himself is not matching up to what he should be.

His view does not stem from a fault in his education nor from a basic fault in his avodah; what his avodah is lacking is order. Chassidus demands that one should learn to perceive another’s positive qualities, but when one’s avodah is in disorder, one perceives the positive qualities in oneself and the other’s faults. And the cure for this is a chassidisher farbrengen.

[7. Liquid Assets]

One has to have ready cash. It is possible to be rich yet hungry: you can’t buy bread with real estate. In the same way, it is possible to study the revealed and the hidden planes of the Torah, yet not to have the ready cash that enables one to cope with walking down the street — so that he turns away from evil, and guards his eyes and ears29 from perceiving evil, and sees and hears what he should see and hear.

Let me tell you of something that took place at one of the high points in the spiritual history of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah, as may be seen from the kuntreis that appeared at that time.30 The Mitteler Rebbe31 used to publish his original chassidic works to meet the individual needs of certain chassidim. If we assume the same of my father [the Rebbe Rashab], we can get some inkling of the stature of the temimim of that time. However, their studies lacked a certain discipline. By this I mean only that each one used to decide for himself that his particular situation dictated that he should now be studying a particular subject.32

As Director of the Yeshivah at the time, I asked my father, “What would you like them to do?”

He replied, “They should become ‘mighty ones who do his bidding,33 listening to the voice of his word.’ ”

Five years later, and even more so a generation later, it was plain to see what mighty men34 they became. (May G‑d help them, body and soul!)

[8. Sensitizing One’s Heart]

Sowing is both superior and inferior to planting. Sowing does not demand much toil, but every year one has to plow and sow afresh. Planting requires arduous preparation and plowing beforehand, and digging and weeding afterwards, but once trees are planted they last. And if worms are found, the only remedy is to remove them.

The Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah is a firmly-planted tree that is yielding the expected fruits, but if (G‑d forbid) various worms are occasionally found, they have to be removed.

On his way home from his imprisonment in Petersburg, the Alter Rebbe said: “I trust to G‑d that no chassidisher piece of bread35 will ever go to waste.” That is to say, a man’s chassidic upbringing and conduct will persistently bore their way inside him until they produce their desired effect.

And indeed, with all the upheavals that chassidic homes have undergone over the past 120 years (5573-5692),36 history has shown that even in those few households whose chassidic luminosity dimmed and whose chassidic ardor cooled down, there have remained vigorous sparks of love for holy things. We may hope to G‑d that the resultant flame will bring those families back to their roots, and that He will show them compassion both materially and spiritually.

Chassidus defines the intellect and the spiritual emotions37 as cause and effect.38 Though the intellect is a self-contained partzuf, its consummation as a cause lies in the fact that it brings about an effect. This relationship provides the answer to the classic question39 asked by the Maggid of Mezritch: How can the Torah command, Veahavta — “Youshall love the L‑rd your G‑d,”40 when love is an emotion experienced in the heart? The answer is that structured meditation41 can bring one to experience this love — and the command is to meditate.

Hence the interpretation that understands the verse as saying, Veahavta — “You will eventually love...”42

Nevertheless, even though the [intellectual] cause should surely compel the [emotive] effect to follow, we observe that it is possible to understand yet not to be aroused — because of the heart’s dullness,43 which blocks its sensitivity to the light which the brain has perceived.

The solution is to chisel the heart’s exterior44 so that it will become a receptor for light. This entails pruning away the tyrannical distractions45 that disrupt one’s efforts at prayer, as explained in Kuntreis HaTefillah 5660 [1900].46 The worshiper should also arouse compassion within himself on his own soul, entreating G‑d with earnest tears that He should allow him an opportunity to bring himself a little nearer to Elokus.

In this spirit chassidim used to wish each other, “If only G‑d would have pity on us and allow our prayers to well forth of their own accord!”47

[9. To Sleep like a Jew]

There is also a dullness of the brain.48 This means that a concept concerning Elokus does not acclimatize in one’s mind, even if only subtly. One of the solutions proposed by Chassidus is that one exert himself in performing a mitzvah — and even more so a hiddur mitzvah to the point of perspiration.49

In the Gemara the question is asked, “In what mitzvah was your father most punctilious?”50

Now, the word זָהִיר, here translated “punctilious,” can also mean “luminous.”51 Accordingly, since “a mitzvah is a lamp,”52 the Alter Rebbe points out that every single soul has a particular mitzvah53 which constitutes its distinctive task. Moreover, this mitzvah serves as a gateway for all his other mitzvos. Thus, though a particular individual may observe all the mitzvos, we often find that he is especially punctilious in the mitzvah of tefillin, or Shabbos, or ransoming captives, or Torah study, or hospitality to strangers. Hence the question, “In what mitzvah was your father most luminous?”

Why does a person experience a subtle dullness of the brain? — Because he does not take his Reading of Shema seriously before he goes to sleep.54 If he goes to sleep as a Jew should, taking stock of the events of the day, resolving to do better the next day and to tackle his avodah in earnest, and pondering over words of Torah until he falls asleep, then, if he falls asleep like a Jew, it’s a Jew who is sleeping and a Jew who will wake up with a lively Modeh ani.55 If, instead, he falls asleep without any stocktaking, then his sleep is coarse (and it’s coarse to sleep coarsely), and he wakes up sleepy.


At this point in the farbrengen the Rebbe Rayatz explained an abstruse point in a maamar of the Rebbe Rashab56 dating from the year 5667 [1907], and relating the various modes of spiritual light to the mind’s capacity for comprehension.


A concept must be labored upon over a period of time; this was what blessed the efforts of oldtime chassidim in their avodah. Instead of “making haste to grow rich”57 and trying to snatch everything at once, one has to be devoted and committed to one’s avodah with all one’s heart and all one’s might.

Thus, for example, commenting on the phrase כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר — “crushed for a luminary,”58 the Alter Rebbe teaches that humbling oneself brings one close to the [soul’s innermost] luminary.59 We, however, have to toil hard, with Tehillim and with tears, to get to the stage of being crushed and humbled.

[10. Brothers of One Mind]

The Rebbe Rayatz now rose from the table and addressed the temimim:

Let every tamim realize that it was my father who founded the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah; he is father to many tens of thousands of Jews. And at every step in the Yeshivah, pnimiyus flowed freely.

Let the temimim realize that their comrades in another land are sacrificing their lives to stand steadfast in the face of those who would shatter the forces of the Living G‑d. Now, therefore, the temimim here should unite with them in spirit, as brothers of one mind. And may G‑d cause His Countenance to shine upon us, and upon the entire House of Israel, forever.